therapy journey

My journey to better mental & spiritual health

Tag: growth

Why do assertiveness training?

I’m halfway through an assertiveness training course and it’s been a real revelation, as if somehow everything makes sense. I’m very happy with how it’s progressing and wrote about it in detail here:

https://therapyjourney.wordpress.com/2016/10/14/assertiveness-training-course-interim-review/

But what brought me to the point where I felt that an assertiveness training course would be beneficial for me? It was something I’d had in the back of my mind for years, but a recent fairly trivial event in my personal life had me thinking ‘I wish I knew what to say here’, whereas in reality I dealt with the situation in my normal manner, namely pretending it didn’t bother me. On the inside I got more and more annoyed and frustrated, sounding off to friends instead of dealing directly with the people involved. The people involved didn’t know how I really felt.

I know you have to pick your battles, but when you spend a lot of your life believing that your feelings are invalid, it clouds your ability to figure out what’s worth your time and what isn’t.

Learning the assertive way really helps, because being assertive means listening to yourself and being attentive to your own needs. It means being able to stand up for yourself when it is appropriate to do so. It means recognising what is worth your precious, finite energy, and what isn’t. And the way in which you act is so much more pleasant to others, because they know what they can expect from you. They find themselves feeling relaxed and happy around you, instead of having a general sense of unease but not being able to put their finger on it.

Although I have struggled with being overly aggressive at times in my life, my main problem at the time of taking on this course was acting too passively. Many that know me now wouldn’t think I’m a passive person but that’s largely because I work so hard at hiding my passive tendencies because they have not served me well in the past. Now I have decided I want to let them go once and for all.

These were some of the things I found myself doing, some recently and some not so recently. I started to pick myself up on a few of these things:

  • Agreeing with the general consensus way too often, even though I have opinions to the contrary.
  • Pretending something doesn’t upset me when it does
  • Saying things are fine when they are not to avoid a fuss
  • Avoiding people in order to side-step talking about an issue
  • Bending over backwards to please others
  • Ordering my own life around others, even those who are not close to me and don’t care about my efforts
  • Abandoning my own opinions, values, belief and judgments and being easily swayed by other people whose ideas were contrary to mine
  • Uncertainly about my own mind because I was always so willing to go along with others and let them decide things for me
  • Lack of disclosure about myself to others that I’m never going to get to know on a personal basis, because there seems little point ‘being myself’
  • Being unable to say no if someone wanted to employ me/ go out with me/ select me for something – they would make the decision and I would be powerless to resist
  • The constant nagging feeling that I am inferior to everybody else
  • Conviction that I can’t rely on myself to be consistent in my decision-making
  • Feeling that I can’t trust myself to have control over my own communication
  • Belief that my self-confidence fluctuates like the weather and is therefore not something I can control
  • Inability to say what I really mean in the moment without it turning into either self-pitying or aggressive remarks/behaviour
  • Angry outbursts when communication becomes simply too frustrating
  • Being unfairly judgmental and harsh towards others, but keeping these opinions to myself. Not valuing others as individuals perhaps because I didn’t value myself and our collective rights

That list was longer than I was expecting and makes me sound like I really had it bad and went through life in a depressive, submissive and powerless way. I didn’t – not for the last 2 years anyway. In fact, to the contrary I have better confidence now than at any other period of my life. I have good self-knowledge having spent years already working on myself. I have the best attitude towards the future I’ve ever had, largely because I’ve a lot to be happy about but also because I’ve the developed the skills needed to cope with life, whatever happens.

The passive person spends much of their time lying both to themselves and to others. This is hugely counterproductive and very destructive. Others may feel guilty for taking advantage of the passive person, or superior because their passive behaviour marks them as inferior. Probably others will feel irritation and pity towards the passive person and may cease to respect them. I was very intrigued to learn that others may actually feel awkward around passive people – because they cannot know what the passive person wants or likes. And of course, that makes perfect sense. Being around an assertive person makes them feel great, because they know you’ll always be honest and say what you really think. You’re open. People like that. So, to be a true ‘people pleaser’, if that’s in your nature, be assertive because that way people will feel safe and know what to expect around you.

Self-deprecation seems to be part of the British sense of humour but it can mask a seriously damaging self-image. Putting yourself down, like I do quite a lot, isn’t really a very nice thing to do – after all, if you wouldn’t speak of others in that way, why talk to yourself like that, e.g “I’m so stupid”, “Could I be any more pathetic”? If you’re a passive person, take the time to pay attention to your self-talk because it might be feeding an unhealthy self-image.

Passive people may make few demands of others, but make unrealistically high demands of themselves which they are bound to fail to meet. It is the same low opinion of oneself that makes passive people put others first, belittle their own views, and seek approval from others above all else. Really it comes down to a lack of self-esteem, and a double standard when applied to other people’s rights and opinions as opposed to one’s own. Why should we treat ourselves with any less respect than that which we afford to others? Surely, if we want to be respected we must respect ourselves first?

What I’ve written about here are the slow penny-drops of the passive person. I’m finally starting to face up to the less-than-perfect communication style I have, and problems with self-esteem and self-image. The specific goals I have with learning assertiveness include having more control over my communication; experiencing a better quality of life with overall needs being met; having the tools to deal with uncertain or unpredictable situations; having less anxiety (especially first thing in the morning when I can feel quite daunted by the day ahead); having more respect from strangers and loved ones alike; being better able to command attention; and having improved wellbeing overall as not so much is pent up.

Assertiveness is a communication style that informs all our interactions with others, but it really starts with recognising what is lacking in our own self-opinion. Only when you’ve accepted your own individual rights as the foundation for living life can the assertive way take hold and flourish. Breaking the patterns of the past is no mean feat and certainly change can be very wrenching and even destructive if you’re not prepared for all that it can entail. But when you’re ready to take control of life and to break the bad habits of the past, it can be very, very liberating.

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Assertiveness training course interim review.

“Forthright, positive, insistence on the recognition of one’s rights” – Oxford English Dictionary

Assertive is a style of communication which contrasts with the passive, aggressive or manipulative styles. It is a way of expressing our needs while at the same time recognising that they are no more important or less important than the needs of others. When we act assertively, we are respectful of others, understanding that both parties are equal and accepting that someone else may say no or disagree with our viewpoint. Assertive people communicate clearly, directly, openly and honestly. And yet the assertive person can recognise in fact when to act assertively and when it may be strategic to lie, to walk away, back down, to be deliberately passive or aggressive.

The training course I’m currently attending at a local branch of Mind (a mental health charity operating across the UK) has been instrumental in helping me to see where my communication falls down and what I’m doing wrong. The reasons why I felt I needed assertiveness training are available in this post:

https://therapyjourney.wordpress.com/2016/10/16/why-do-assertiveness-training/

It has challenged me in quite significant ways which have sometimes felt a little uncomfortable but not as uneasy as some of the exercises on my recent psychodynamic counselling course. That’s because the nature of assertiveness training is essentially forward-looking.

With assertiveness being the goal there is the inbuilt premise that change is possible. One has to believe in change in order to achieve an identifiable goal. We spent the first session understanding the cycle of change adapted from the work of Prochaska and DiClemente. Upheaval brings with it pros as well as cons and can be a painful journey, but as long as the pros outweigh the cons it is a risk worth taking. There was a degree of healthy self-examination in the first couple of sessions as we pause to understand the rights we all have as individuals. This is the basis that must be understood if any lasting changes in our interactions with others can be made. What it calls for is an acceptance of certain rights which are:

  1. To state our own needs
  2. To be treated with respect as an intelligent, capable and equal human being.
  3. To express our feelings
  4. To express our opinions and values
  5. To say “yes” or “no” for ourselves
  6. To make mistakes
  7. To change our minds
  8. To say I do not understand
  9. To ask for what we want
  10. To decline responsibility for other people’s problems
  11. To not be dependent on others for approval
  12. To be unassertive

For many on the course, myself included, this brought a painful realisation of the rights we had denied ourselves over the years, perhaps over entire lifetimes so far. For me the ones I selected as needing the most work were 6. To make mistakes and 7. To change our minds. I was brought up believing that to make mistakes was a sign of weakness – and when I did make a mistake, I certainly didn’t own up to it, because it was so shameful! Similarly with 7, I guess there was an assumption I latched onto as a child that to change your mind was a sign of a weak character. The assumption went unchallenged and was in fact fed by significant others in my life for so many years that reading this Bill of Rights in class made me feel kind of emotional. It was like a great veil had been lifted and finally the unspoken could be said out loud. The great realisation was that I wasn’t weak or stupid if I changed my mind. I am human and it is my right, like it is everyone’s right.

The Bill of Rights is the absolute foundation on which assertiveness is built. If you believe deeply that you are entitled to those fundamentals, then what we call ‘assertiveness’ logically follows.

The first technique learned on the course was the ‘I’ statement. It can be used to ask for what we want or to state when a given situation is not working well for us and we want to change something. We express clearly what we really think and feel. We take responsibility for ourselves. We don’t blame or attack others, and stay calm throughout. We only talk about how something affects us (and what we’d like as an outcome) so there is less to argue about. The ‘I’ statement deals with facts, feelings and expectations.

The format of the ‘I’ statement has three parts to it, namely “I feel”… “When”… “What I would really appreciate is”…. To use it successfully, you must always keep the outcome in mind and be specific and concise about it. Crucially, you do not allow yourself to be dragged in to another discussion. You stick to your own agenda. You simply state your case using repetition if necessary and if that is not getting through, it’s fine to say “I’ve told you what I think, it’s up to you what you do with that.” Body language and tone of voice are key. The assertive way keeps in mind that 70%, or whatever the science says this week, of communication is non-verbal.

When we began to practise ‘I’ statements it soon became apparent that even in the safety of the classroom people found it jarring to say “I feel upset by”. The high value placed on feelings in this mode of communication is somewhat at odds with the culture we live in, in which feelings are not readily talked about. Many environments it’s simply not appropriate to talk of our feelings, such as the workplace or interactions with a stranger. The course leader made a very valid point regarding how we can subtly shift the language we use in accordance with the setting. In our culture at large, feelings are not valued but opinions are king. We reformulate our statement as the opinion, “I think it isn’t fair” instead of emotive language, “I feel upset by”.

After learning about ‘I’ statements we moved on to Saying No. This was something that many in the group struggled with. A cliché abounds of a typically passive, doormat-type person who gets persuaded and manipulated into saying, doing, and buying things they don’t want. A whole industry preys on these kinds of people. Perhaps they ‘don’t’ want to make a fuss’ or their motto is ‘anything for a quiet life’. They feel they will let people down or upset them if they refuse a request. This stereotype has some truth to it.

However we have a right to say no. Saying no doesn’t mean rejecting the person, it simply means refusing the request. When you say no, you must actually use the word ‘no’ – not ‘I’m not sure’, ‘it’s not a good time’, ‘I don’t think so’ ‘I’m too tired’, or any other evasion. The other person will be thinking that your answer is simply a preamble to negotiations.

So, clarity is key when saying no. When you are clear, people are less likely to pressure you because they have already heard your answer. They know where they stand. Also, a convoluted answer full of apologies, justifications and guilt can be uncomfortable for the other person to hear.

It’s really very freeing to know that we do all have the right to say no. Again it comes back to the Bill of Rights that we learned in the first session, and being committed to accepting those rights. If other people feel bad about our refusal of their request or try to make us feel guilty or duty-bound to comply, that’s their problem. Realising this is like a huge weight has been lifted from the shoulders of those whose sense of self comes – strange as it sounds – from compliance with others.

What this course has given me so far is permission to stand up for myself. Yes, we all have the right to state our needs. Yes, we all have the right to decline responsibility for other people’s problems. Yes, we all have the right to be treated with respect as intelligent, capable and equal human beings.

Being aware of our rights is more empowering than any of the individual techniques and exercises that we have learned so far, although they have been very helpful and eye-opening too. The effect of sitting in a room with other human beings who all now share the knowledge of our rights makes it very real. This has been the real surprise of the course. Undoing our disempowered self-image and replacing it with one in which we are allowed to express ourselves. That is the key to assertiveness.

assertiveness

Faith, joy and letting go.

I have written loads here and elsewhere on the subject of overthinking and desperately wanting to feel joy as my overriding state in a deep feeling kind of way. I am of course aware of the irony about writing a wordy blog about how much I would like to stop thinking, rationalising and intellectualising my feelings. If I could get over how delicious the irony is, maybe I could make some progress.

I’d love for joy to be my overriding state. In fact I’d love it to be everyone’s overriding state. I believe this is part of what we’ve fallen away from, since the introduction of sin into the world. Joy is what’s called for in the Christian concept of God. That is what we all need to live by and remember. Joy is felt, not thought. On waking, when I actually remember to, I think ‘today, I am just going to feel joy in my body and also in my heart.’ But what I would like is to have joy be the default, not something I have to use my head to remember consciously. That’s why there is some struggle involved, some headwork, until I train myself to feel what is already within.

I am reminded of something that came up in my study group. The two of us in the group are very wordy and love to intellectualise. For Lent, we were reading Rowan Williams’ Meeting God in Mark, which is intended as a meditative study companion to Mark’s Gospel. A few weeks ago, we spent some time dissecting this part:

How does God work? Subtly, slowly, from the very depth of being. Or steadily, irresistibly, like the light reaching the corners of the room. He works outwards from the heart of being into the life of every day – not inwards from some distant heaven.

In just a few weeks, I can see that I have made some progress. When I came across this material, I tried to understand exactly the difference between God working from the heart and God descending from heaven to bestow us with His blessings to simply letting go – which is precisely what faith is. Letting go is the definition of trust as well, and that goes for earthly matters too. That doesn’t mean, stick your head in the sand and be content with your happy ignorance. But rather, listen carefully to that voice that has the ring of truth. Be aware of the gaps and the silences, because that could be where He speaks the loudest. Be ready to engage in the relationship with Him and to ask for His guidance.

Mark’s Gospel uses quite mysterious parables to highlight the irony of human beings not knowing the fact of their ignorance when they are confronted with the truth. If God were to reveal himself, in a way that our fantasies demand, our problem would not be that we don’t know but that we cannot love – it would be nothing to do with our knowledge and everything to do with our nature.

Our natures, if we resort to using them and nothing else to guide us, will take us to very dark, very desolate places. We possess distorted ideas about love, power and glory. To us, love is earned and it is conditional. We do not love someone unless we are sure they love us. If they hurt us enough, we will force ourselves to stop loving them. Our fantasy of power meanwhile, that people often joke about, is that we could have everything ‘our way’ if only we were the King of the Universe. People would have to bow down to us, and wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could order everybody around. If we had ultimate power, we could do mighty things like demand everyone to give us whatever we want, and we’d have the most money and comforts.

Is this what power is? Is this the glory that we seek? Human power basically boils down to subjugating the weak and exalting the self to an undeserved position of authority. Jesus’ death completely in one fell swoop, destroys the fantasy that God’s power is much like ours, just to a greater (infinite) degree. Our common idea of ‘power’ is so tainted by our fallen natures, it has no resemblance whatsoever to the true power of the Lord. The corresponding fantasy concerning power is that ‘whatever power we attain as mortal beings much be valued and clung to because it is power endorsed by God. In these lethal errors lie the roots of all our sin and self-inflicted misery, the roots of death’, Williams writes. The myth of power, like so many of our errors, holds us prisoner. We are delivered from these frightening fallacies by the death of Christ. It is all there, it happened millennia ago, all we have to do is let go.

How can it be that this man, who called himself the Son of God, is forsaken by all towards the end of his life? How is he so pitifully alone? How can it be that he manifests his ultimate power in acts of service, self-gift and never controlling others? How is the Messiah a slave who washes the feet of those who follow him? It is this utterly incredible and awe-inspiring when you sit back and feel and know and rediscover these things. It will take a lifetime to imagine the possibilities of trust and faith in the helpless, powerless God on the cross.

I am fortunate and have everything to be joyful about.

dripping,-creeping,-streaming

Humbled by wonder, joy and truth.

“All Joy reminds. It is never a possession, always a desire for something longer ago or further away or still ‘about to be’.” ― C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.

The search for truth, which I now realise is what the Therapy Journey always was, is strewn with many obstacles, time drains, wrong turns and false gods. My research was leading me down a route I thought was filled with harmony, joy, peace and spiritual truth. I was quite taken with New Age philosophies and practices. I am going to detail the sorts of things I thought were Very Good Things. Some are from the “therapy” part of my journey and some are related to my supposed “awakening”.

-kundalini yoga, Emotional Freedom Techniques, the Zeitgeist Movement, David Icke, chakra opening, chi, Buddhism, ‘Conversations With God’, (some forms of ) meditation, Eckhart Tolle, ‘The Secret’ & the law of attraction, The Age of Aquarius, craniosacral therapy…. Anything connected with New Ageism, ‘alternative’ spirituality.

I’m sure most people will be aware of at least a handful of these aspects of modern spirituality. So what is it that underscores all New Age systems? They are mostly Eastern-influenced, and have a variety of teachings concerning salvation but almost always make man central to the process, for man is the divine co-creator of his reality. It is a theology of feelgoodism, universal tolerance and moral relativism.

Pretty harmless, right? Just tools to help busy, modern people achieve a modicum of calm and inner peace. That’s what I used to believe. But now I have become aware of the truth, that all the above philosophies and more that are connected to New Ageism are nothing but revamped Satanism. Satanism made palatable to the masses!

So what makes these systems Satanic ones?  Look carefully at even the simplified synopsis two paragraphs above, and you will see the belief that the individual can be their own God. Man can look to himself for salvation….

Before I continue with what comes next, I must explain what I reckon my awakening was really about. But first, what it is not. A year ago, I thought it was a spiritual one. Then months later I thought it was a truther / conspiracy theory awakening. I was rather taken with New Agers that reject religion and believe there is a grand manipulation at play which entails sinister power in the hands of the few who control the many. Advocates include David Icke and Peter Joseph. I came to understand at a basic level, the manipulation that is inherent in the structures and strictures of our world today.

Only very recently have I come to realise that the process of my awakening is the path to my becoming a Christian. The truth I have found to be the one and only truth, is directly at odds with the majority of what I have written on this blog in the past. It is incompatible with the New Age philosophies that now dominate mainstream culture, many of which I tried on for size myself. It is at odds with some of my previous writings about belief in God being tantamount to mental illness – a literal mind virus. It was of course, necessary to go through various stages of discovery, because this is part of the journey. Sometimes, you have to go a ways down a road to realise you’ve gone the wrong way, and must turn back.

This has all been part of God’s plan for me and there is no way as a mortal that I can see the smallest fraction of what He can. It is like viewing one pixel for one second and trying to fathom the whole movie. What I can say about the journey to get here, to the very beginning of my eternal walk with Christ, is that I am grateful and humbled to be saved. My turning away from sin and into the light of the truth didn’t happen overnight. There were no visions, no signs, no bright lights or spiritual events. It was a gradual realisation where the truth just dawns on me little by little.

I had tried this religion on for size many times over the past 15 years, since I was a teenager. But in the past there was always a block to actual faith. No matter how much of an academic understanding I had, the faith was missing. I simply couldn’t believe it. Yes, I wanted to follow Christ. Yes, I wanted to believe God came to earth as a man, who then lived the perfect life and shed his blood for our salvation. Yes, I was fascinated by the Bible and wanted to read more. Yes, I wanted to join Christians in worship, not merely as a critical bystander only in it for the architecture and singing. But always there was the nagging thought in my mind, “it’s beautiful, but it’s not real”.

I’ve been aware of belief growing since August 2015, around 7 months ago. I’m truly grateful. I have a constant little thrill in my heart because I have so much in my life to be truly happy and thankful for. That is humbling, that is wondrous.

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An unnatural history.

Maybe I have cracked up. I fully accept that madness is a part of my psyche. I embrace it, along with other absurd sides of life. Maybe I am particularly susceptible to crazy ideas that I can really get my teeth into, because I am running out of things to believe in – things I can actually put into practice. My situation could be worse but I am frustrated and thoroughly not where I want to be, surrounded by people I regard (not literally) as robots in a small town I sometimes loathe. Boredom is the most toxic of all chronic states, and when I fear the darkness within myself most it is during times of boredom.

During my trawl of the blogs I follow recently, I came across an article regarding Jimmy Savile which led  me to this 2012 article, in which David Icke tells of Savile’s role as a “fixer” to the royal family of the United Kingdom and how in fact the bloodlines of all royal families and other leaders in politics and business (which are in fact but one family) being founded on Satanism and other occult knowledge, in which paedophilia and ritual sacrifice play a key role.

My interest was piqued. I’ve always had a fascination with conspiracy theories, as they are condescendingly termed, and some time ago while I was in the United States I started getting into the Zeitgeist movement but have failed to do anything concerned with activism for this cause, only the passive activity of watching the films. Nevertheless, my consciousness was awakened, which is supposedly happening in fact on a grand scale – but still so many allow themselves to remain comatose, deadened by meaningless entertainment, the treadmill of consumer wants, and the demanding, unnecessary work that keeps them in voluntary slavery. Peter Joseph said, in the second of the Zeitgeist trilogy, “Physical slavery requires people to be housed and fed. Economic slavery requires the people to feed and house themselves”. And it is this that people are so busy doing that they see no alternative.

It was from this open-minded standpoint that I began to read Icke’s 1999 book, The Biggest Secret, the entire text of which is available to download in pdf format free. What I’m about to share isn’t presented as the truth, merely as an interesting theory that is capturing my attention currently. My blog in its entirety is a document of my journey from darkness to light, from anger to peace. What I write isn’t the doctrine of myself, merely the reflections of a person that recognises life is made of change, not least within my own mind. I write for clarity, for therapy, for outreach. I write for myself.

The story goes that a race within a race of interbreeding bloodlines centred in the Middle- and Near-East have complete control over the rest of humanity, having introduced complex structures such as religion, politics, the military, government and business, and known as the Babylonian Brotherhood. See, I told you it was a crackpot idea. Furthermore, this race is not fully human, but part shape-shifting reptile that inhabits the fourth dimension. Nor are they of Earth but they are from Mars! But, of course!

There is a lot of highly contentious information in Icke’s book about a highly evolved race that lived on Mars at a time when that planet was a lot closer to the sun – in the position that the Earth currently inhabits, in fact. Our other next door neighbour, Venus, was an ice-coated comet according to scientist of sorts Brian Desborough, and its collision with Mars was what caused billions of tons of ionised ice to be attracted to our magnetic poles, which before 4,500 BCE had no ice. This would answer the question of what caused the mammoth, a temperate grassland mammal, to die out so suddenly. More importantly, the collision caused the destruction of the highly advanced Mars race’s home planet. With nowhere to go, they decide to colonise the Earth, and went to war with the native race of the Earth.

Now this is an entirely preposterous conjecture if I take a step back from it for a moment, and I cannot find a satisfactory answer to the question of how did this Mars race get to Earth with their planet destroyed? Why are there no traces of their technology? It also gets very dangerous as we are talking about racial divides, which is not something our planet needs more of.

Separately to this strand, there is an idea put forward by scholar Zecharia Sitchin who has translated Sumerian tablets which date from 4,000 – 2,000 BCE, found in present-day Iraq. They reveal that an extra-terrestrial race known as the Anunnaki came to earth 450,000 years ago. Humans were created through interbreeding as a slave race. Homo erectus appears to have emerged in Africa about 1.5 million years ago. For over a million years their physical form seems to have remained the same, but then, out of nowhere, came the dramatic change to homo sapiens and an even more instantaneous change to homo sapiens sapiens, with complex language and massive brains, about 35,000 years ago. Icke “feels” that only a “race from a reptile genetic stream” could have been responsible for such tinkering. Almost every ancient culture has reference to some kind of lizard-like, humanoid reptile species.

This is a fantastic reworking of our natural history and if nothing else, a lesson in broadening in the mind through entertaining impossible concepts. It is all oddly compelling to me as I struggle with lack of direction and meaning in my own life during the current fallow period. I stress that I do not subscribe hook, line and sinker to Icke’s theories merely that they hold a lurid car-crash fascination for me. (Or perhaps the lady doth protest too much). I know I shouldn’t read this tripe, as it’s only going to mess with my head, but I am hooked for the time being – and goddammit I’m bored.

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Grace. The unconscious mind. Personal religion.

I’m not going to wax lyrical about being in any way spiritually enlightened, because I’m not. I’m no guru or saint, I’m just starting out and I’m learning a lot of things. I like to keep them safe and close to my heart by writing about them. I hope to remember my learnings and make them part of me. The Road Less Travelled has obviously made a big impact on me, as I don’t seem to be able to stop writing about it.

There are a couple of loose ends from Peck’s book that I’d like to tie up. We have discovered Peck’s belief that the ultimate aim of personal evolution is to be like God. Spiritual growth is how we as individuals evolve. And love is the force that overcomes the entropy intrinsic to the natural law of the universe. I wanted to explore the idea of God being a force within our unconscious, as this really stood out for me while reading this book.

We still have no idea why the unconscious mind possesses knowledge that we have not necessarily already learned. Peck suggests that the interface between God and man is at least in part the interface between our unconscious and our conscious. Perhaps we can go further and postulate that where God inhabits is Jung’s collective subconscious that we all share.

I find it very interesting that Peck’s view flips around the beliefs of the preceding age of psychotherapy, which held that the unconscious with its tumultuousness, nightmares, mental illnesses and assorted demons, is the seat of psychopathology. In Peck’s version, diseases of the mind occur because our conscious self resists unconscious wisdom and it is amidst this conflict that the unconscious seeks to heal. Far from being dark, unruly and fearful, our unconscious mind is an expression of a far greater power.

But, we are in the dark about what our unconscious mind – God – is telling us. Dreams are open to contradictory interpretations, dark nights of the soul seemingly serve little purpose except making us miserable, and we are very quick to discount those situations when we intuit something but cannot figure how we could possibly ‘know’ it. Perhaps on occasion we are being assisted by a force other than our own conscious will. This is where grace comes in.

Grace is a “powerful force originating outside of human consciousness which nurtures the spiritual growth of human beings”. Examples of grace include near-misses in potential accident situations, dream phenomena where revelations are made; miracles of health; examples of extra sensory perception; and other fortuitous incidents, peculiar coincidences, synchronicity or serendipity that we cannot explain. The following four conditions define them:

  1. They nurture human life and spiritual growth.
  2. They are incompletely understood by scientific thinking.
  3. They are commonplace among humanity.
  4. They originate outside the conscious human will.

Peck goes on to assert that the fact of grace basically infers the existence of God. Whether or not one believes in God is a personal matter which no argument from a book is going to change – but unbelievably it can and does change over time. This got me thinking about my own faith and asking the question, how did I go from being a hardline atheist who pretty much felt like punching every devout religious person squarely on the nose, to someone who only today over breakfast, told my flatmates that I believe in a God as a soul of the universe, a oneness, source, a spirit that unites us all?

There’s no simple answer to this. I didn’t see any huge signposts pointing me towards God or grace. I didn’t dodge death or see Jesus in a watermelon. I can only conclude my faith was slowly awakened during the fourteen months I’ve been publishing and asking questions. In searching for mental peace and desperately wanting to shake the problems I used to have with anger, violence, neuroses etc, I found that there was much more blossoming within me given that I had made a commitment to change. I had no idea when I started how much potential I have to be joyful and spiritually whole. This is my therapy.

There was one final point that Peck makes in the ‘Growth and Religion’ section that really hit home. From the theologian Alan Jones “one of our problems is that very few of us have developed any distinctive personal life. Everything about us seems secondhand, even our emotions. […] I cannot survive on a secondhand faith in a secondhand God. There has to be a personal word, a unique confrontation, if I am to come alive”. And if sitting around waiting for God to show himself to us won’t do, we must each of us forge our own religion. This is “a wholly personal one, forged entirely through the fire of our questioning and doubting in the crucible of our own experience of reality.” I love this idea, and I think it’s what I am doing in my myriad ways.

Spiritual growth.

“Genuine love is self-replenishing. The more I nurture the spiritual growth of others, the more my own spiritual growth is nurtured.” – M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled

Spiritual growth as the ultimate aim of human existence crops up many, many times in Peck’s seminal work, The Road Less Travelled. It has got me thinking about what is meant by such a far-reaching and lofty concept as real spiritual growth. Could it be, awareness of universal truths? Truly understanding and accepting the self? Behaving out of love unwaveringly? Knowledge and insight into the nature of God? Cultivating the spiritual growth of others? I have a few ideas, but for now let’s stick to what I understood from the book.

Spiritual growth is the one and only will of love. Love, we remember, is defined by Peck as, “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. When real love occurs, we cannot help but extend our limits into a larger state of being. Self-love and loving others go hand in hand because ultimately they are indistinguishable. Loving is self-evolution.

If spiritual growth is the purpose of love, what is the purpose of spiritual growth? It is evolution. The phenomenon of evolution shouldn’t exist. It violates the second law of thermodynamics, which states that energy flows from a state of higher differentiation to a state of lower differentiation – or entropy as it is known. Entropy is the force of decay, of homogenisation, of chaos. Evolution is nothing short of a miracle in our cosmos.

Spiritual growth is the evolution of the individual. While the decline of physical competence is an inevitability, the human spirit may evolve throughout one’s lifetime. Such growth is so difficult and effortful because it is conducted against a natural resistance. The natural inclination is to keep things the way they are. Growth entails embracing and seeking change – not merely for the sake of change, but in as far as making changes allows us to become better and better versions of ourselves, and there is no end to this process.

So, what is the force that pushes individuals and the whole species to grow in spite of our natural lethargy, and against our instincts to keep things the same? It is love. Love is a struggle, it is work. It is the extension of the self, and it is evolution in progress. Love is the force that defies the natural law of entropy which is present throughout the known universe on the micro and macro levels.

I wonder if without a significant other or others to love, can an individual grow? The kind of love that Peck is talking about isn’t the general ‘love they neighbour’ sort, nor the ‘in love’ feeling. By love’s very nature, an individual has only enough energy to manifest real love to a few chosen individuals. Vast amounts of energy are required to extend the self truly to others, and our individual stores of energy are as limited as hours of the day.

I am not nurturing another’s spiritual growth at the moment. I wonder if I ever have. My own growing process is stalling, like all aspects of my life now. I have had some bad times lately and have struggled to identify where they have come from, and what recent experiences or run-ins may have triggered them off. At the end of the day, it comes down to a lack of connection and simple loneliness but this is what I expected as I am in the middle of a huge giving-up/ growing up process. I live a transient lifestyle. So, this lack of soul connection is a hard reset. I know I am lucky to have possessed the wisdom and guts to do something about what I lacked.

If spiritual evolution could be said to have a goal, what is that goal? This is where Peck loses a lot of his readers. The goal of spiritual growth is Becoming God. Peck writes, “We are growing toward godhood. God is the goal of evolution. It is God who is the source of the evolutionary force and God who is the destination.” Peck concedes that it would be putting it mildly to say this is a terrifying idea. But think about it. While we deny our godliness and shirk our responsibility, we don’t have to worry about the responsibility of spiritual growth. We can reject the hard work, relax, grab a beer, watch TV, stick a hand down our pants and just be human. Of course the idea that there is a path to godliness sounds crazy, because that’s just it, it’s the road less travelled. But once you’re on this path, like I am, you realise you might as well enjoy it because after all, the journey is the destination.

Giving up & growth.

This was a post I didn’t want to write, because it may contain negativity. However, in the interests of honesty and dealing with the rough as well as the smooth, I’m going to attempt an understanding and acceptance of my current mindset. And I’m going to be as positive as I can while dealing with its inherent negativity.

In Peck’s psychology as propounded in The Road Less Travelled, a principal reason why people seek psychiatric help is because of depression. When we give something up, depression is the feeling associated with that process. Since mentally healthy humans must grow, and giving up a part of the old outdated self is an integral part of growth, depression is reframed as a normal and healthy phenomenon. It only becomes unhealthy when something in the giving-up process is unresolved or interfered with. On a fundamental level for me personally, the giving-up process has started in my psyche.

It is quite common for individuals not to know why they are feeling down, but my subconscious knows, for it has already kick-started the process that will prefigure the next phase of my life. The idea of the ‘stages of life’ or identity crises was explored by developmental psychologist Erik Erikson. The stage I am at corresponds with Love: The Intimacy vs. Isolation conflict which is emphasised around the age of 30. This is a stage at which young adults seek to blend their identity with their social group. Our egos have had experience of rejection, which for some is so painful that we will do anything to avoid it, including cutting some of the ties that bound us.

In his 1950 book, Erikson writes, “Intimacy has a counterpart: Distantiation: the readiness to isolate and if necessary, to destroy those forces and people whose essence seems dangerous to our own, and whose territory seems to encroach on the extent of one’s intimate relations”. When I read that, it was another one of those Eureka moments. What I used to call freedom has turned into isolation. What used to be exhilarating is now meaningless. Life was for a time a dazzling blank canvas full of too much possibility to have to tie down just one experience to each moment, but it has become stifling and I have briefly considered jumping in the Thames.

Since excelling at one’s current stage involves mastery of the previous stage, this leaves me in a pickle. I don’t feel that I emerged triumphantly from the Fidelity: Identity vs. Confusion stage. Studies have shown that those with a poor sense of self (me) tend to have less committed relationships (yes) and are more likely to suffer emotional isolation, loneliness, and depression (yes, yes and yes). Damn me for being a late developer.

So what is my subconscious trying to tell me – what am I giving up for Lent and indeed for life? To keep things very broad, this is a time in my life when I am realising just how many of my social peers, that I’d previously relied upon for validation and support, have grown divergently from me – or have stayed in exactly the same place. We’ve outgrown each other. Eventually we all have to choose with whom we want to surround ourselves, because like it or not, they’ll influence what we believe is possible for ourselves. Obviously this growing apart process is going to hurt, and in seeking the new connections I’m yet to make, I’m exposing myself to more hurt. And in between, yes, it’s going to be lonely.

What else am I giving up? Cherished notions, I suppose. A safe, cosy view of the future which I now believe isn’t my destiny. Closing my eyes and hoping for the best – that was always a favourite. I realise how much work I still have to do on myself before I can feel that I am truly authentic and ready to give the world, or at least those close to me, my gift. The gift that is the best of me.

Lastly, I became aware yesterday while stomping through London in a huff, that I am saying goodbye to this city, where I have spent on and off the last 12 years of my life, or to put it another way, my entire adult existence. In just over a week I will no longer be a Londoner, and it is my choice not to return to live here again.

I know in my rare strong moments that this too shall pass. I give myself a pat on the back for giving up my old ways of doing and looking at things. And not a moment too soon, some of my old behaviours. It’s not in my nature to cling to the past for comfort and reassurance. I’ve always been the sort to dream about the future. I’ve not experienced a yearning for ‘the way things used to be’ – perhaps because things always turn out kinda sh*t. Many people are unwilling to suffer the pain of giving up what has been outgrown. They cling forever to their old patterns of thinking and behaving, failing to negotiate the crisis of their time. To grow up is to experience the joyful transition that accompanies our many transitions into greater maturity and I for one am pleased to be on this journey, as f***ing hard as it is at times.

Love. Newness. Dependency. Cathexis.

While I’m somewhat stagnant in getting to my goals at the moment, I am spending more of my time connecting with fellow bloggers. Thrillingly, I see a lot of parallels between those whose journeys I find particular interesting, and my own. There is a common thread of love binding us, a vibration in our collective consciousness. We are individuals who write about self-discovery, spiritual empowerment, becoming better people, loving others, achieving good mental health. We share something. These bloggers have come into my life at a time when I am reaching a hand into the darkness.

I want to thank everyone that has showed me an alternative to self-hating, self-blaming and seeing the world as a hostile place. I understand now that it is my destiny to create something good for myself and others. This thing’ is my life’s work. I will make whatever it is from scratch and share it with others. I will use everything in me to make this a reality. I am entering into a vibration of its newness. I have written before about being in a transitional state, having lost lots of things and now readjusting. This is ongoing, but I am allowing myself to believe in the next step – aligning with the vibration of the good that it is in my power alone to manifest.

In the meantime, I am filling my cup with learnings from The Road Less Travelled by M. Scott Peck. In my last post I wrote about the idea that falling in love is essentially a trick played on us by biology, vs real love which Peck defines as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth”. Real love requires effort, discipline and commitment to growth, long after the butterflies associated with ‘falling in love’ have taken flight.

I very much enjoy Peck’s style which is at times as brutal as it can be gentle. On the subject of dependency, which is sometimes confused with love, Peck writes, “when you require another individual for your survival, you are a parasite on that individual”. Love is the free exercise of choice. It is when two people are quite capable of living separately, but choose to live with each other. Dependency, then, is “the inability to experience wholeness or to function adequately without the certainty that one is being actively cared for by another”. It is a pathological sickness, a mental illness or defect. Yet, every single one of us has desires to be cared for by someone stronger than us with no effort on our part.

I wonder how many of us can truly say we have never been dependent? I can’t. Though not dependent by nature (in fact, happiest when I can express my fierce independence in my own eccentric way), I have certainly been sucked into another’s dramatic dependency needs. I fostered dependency out of a misplaced sense of duty. Such passive-dependents are so busy seeking to be loved that they have no energy left to love. Their inner emptiness can never be filled, so they move from one partner to another, constantly seeking relationships that may while seeming intense and dramatic are in fact extremely shallow.

Genuine love is a self-replenishing activity in which the self is enlarged rather than diminished. It involves a change in the self, but one of extension rather than sacrifice. The aim of real love is always spiritual growth. Further, love is an action, not a feeling. A genuinely loving person will take a loving action even towards an individual she consciously dislikes. I am not this spiritually advanced yet, and I cannot guarantee that love towards my fellow man is always the choice I make. I am trying.

Peck makes a distinction between the action of real love and the feeling of cathecting. To cathect means ‘to invest emotion or feeling in (an idea, object, or another person).’ There is a misconception that love is a feeling because we confuse cathecting with loving. We can cathect a person without caring for their spiritual development. The passive dependent in fact usually fears the spiritual development of her cathected partner. Genuine love isn’t an overwhelming feeling, it is a committed decision.

I have been thinking about my mother and how all my life I’ve been the object of her cathexis. Her love for me is not such that she would like to see me grow to fulfil my unique potential, to be the very best I can be. Her love consists of keeping things the way they’ve always been. She wants to shield me from the outside world. She wants to keep me close, forever. She desperately seeks to influence me. Her love is conditional upon my upholding certain religious values and social conventions that she holds dear.

From the earliest age, I was taught that the world was a hostile place. My mother would scare me into believing that there were rapists and murderers hiding around every corner, waiting to pounce. My worldview growing up was that I had no power, and that those with power would abuse it. Bogeymen, ghosts, spirits and devils were real. I was taught to believe in a vengeful God that you can never please except through a lifetime of servitude and self-sacrifice. I thought, until surprisingly recently, that people were out to get me. Even those that seemed nice initially would turn ugly, according to her. Men were not to be trusted; no-one was.

The worldview and the coddling that she gave me served their purpose, and I love her for it. It is my triumph that despite some of the more distressing and regretful aspects I was forcefed growing up, I am not only being influenced by the wonderful, hopeful works of others but I can feel them changing me fundamentally all the way through.

Love & all who sail in her.

The Road Less Travelled is truly ground-breaking and so brilliantly brutal in some of the conclusions it draws and arguments it puts forward. What follows is a breakdown of Peck’s rebuttal of notions of romantic love, and how it differs (is actually at a polar extreme) from real love in that it doesn’t allow for enlargement of the self necessary for spiritual growth, but instead, temporary release from it.

So ‘falling in love’ is a specifically sex-linked experience. It occurs only when we are sexually motivated whether consciously or unconsciously. The feeling of ecstatic lovingness always fades.

To understand the inevitable ending of ‘falling in love’, he explores what psychiatrists call ego boundaries. When we are babies, we cannot distinguish between ourselves and the rest of the universe. When we are hungry, the world is hungry. When we move our legs, the world is moving. Through various stages of childhood and adolescent development, we learn our identity as individuals, the limits of our flesh and boundaries of our power.

Falling in love therefore represents a sudden collapse of one’s ego boundaries, permitting an individual to merge their identity with that of another.

In this respect, falling in love is a regression. It echoes a time when we were merged with our mothers in infancy. Feelings of omnipotence, much like a child at the age of two might have, make a comeback. What also reappears is the false sense that problems are no more, all boundaries can be overcome and loneliness has been banished.

Sooner or later, ego boundaries snap back into place and two separate identities re-emerge. Either the ties are dissolved or the individuals begin the work of real loving. Real loving occurs in a situation in which the feeling of loving is lacking; when we act lovingly in spite of how we feel, not because of it.

This is because falling in love is not an act of will. It happens even when it is inconvenient and undesirable. While we can choose how to respond to the experience of falling in love, we cannot choose to create the experience itself. Further, falling in love is not an extension of one’s ego boundaries, it is a temporary collapse of them. The experience requires no effort – those who are lazy and undisciplined fall in love just as easily as dedicated and disciplined ones.

From a biological point of view falling in love serves only to terminate loneliness and facilitate successful procreation. Spiritual development is not something that can be summoned through the process, as when we are in love we are at peace, striving no higher than what we already have achieved. Falling in love, according to Peck, is “a genetically determined instinctual component of mating behaviour”.

If that isn’t a passion-killer, I’m not sure what is. I’m sure I have come across the idea before as the book has been around since many years before I was even born, but it makes for an arresting, eye-opening read. As with most things that strike me as exceptional, it’s always better to know them and have the capacity to mull them over, than to ignore the more unpalatable truths that our society avoids dwelling on.

Every day I am making more of a conscious decision that an alternative lifestyle is where I’m headed. I don’t want to be fed on popular media that patronises and perpetuates myths that are flagrantly untrue. I refuse to work in a job which has no intrinsic purpose apart from the acquisition of wealth. Money is the most stupid, ridiculous reason to do anything. I reject spending my vital life energy in an environment which deadens the mind, and which is exactly what it was designed to do.

When I am insulted or misunderstood, I like it because it shows me that I am going the right way. I was told yesterday that I have “a sh*tty outlook on life”. I am delighted to hear such words because they remind me that I am destined for bigger and better things, far beyond what those unenlightened and conventional slaves to the system are even aware of. I’m designing my own philosophy of love, life, self and career.

I’ve been aware of it for a while but I am unconventional. I’ve tried to fight it and spent much of my twenties toeing the line. I thought that if I did the things that everyone else did, I’d truly want them too. I strove to be a normal girlfriend, to want normal material things, to work in a normal job, do normal things on a Saturday night and fit in with anyone who happened to be around me. For a while I kidded myself I was just like everyone else.

It never worked. My relationships were fraught, my friends were merely drinking buddies, I made myself depressed through work, I found emptiness in the things I bought, and drinking made me irresponsible and thoroughly unlikeable.

Now, everything has changed. All the trappings have gone. Friends have gone, my livelihood will change, my lifestyle has uncluttered, my life in England is coming to an end. Fundamentally my priorities have shifted. What is most important to me now, in this period of transition, is to be true to myself.

The stream of warm impermanence.

I wrote recently on someone else’s blog that embracing impermanence is so beautiful yet many people are afraid of its emptiness. We are led to believe from an early age that only that which is sustainable forever is worth pursuing. Of course, our lives are much too long and complicated to hold fast to such idealistic and rigid statutes. There is not only beauty but meaning in passing through situations, places and people and above all much we face up to about ourselves in the process.

I have designed my life in such a way that everything in it is temporary. My job, where I live, my relationships, my pursuits, even my very philosophy of life is always evolving. Sometimes, it’s scary. I worry about being untrue to myself because I’m perhaps not looking after myself, or going after salvation in the wrong places. But what it comes down to is that everything’s a phase. This whole journey is nothing more than a miscellany of phases, plots and subplots, strung together by a flimsy narrative. It’s the narrative that I’m working on. Everything else is change – it has to be.

I’m finally reading The Road Less Travelled which has been on my reading list since I started writing this blog. I’m only a short way in but already it has compelled me to start writing as it’s too inspirational and revelatory not to capture and share. M. Scott Peck believes that life is a series of problems, and we should accept this rather than denying or avoiding them. It is the process of meeting and solving problems that gives life meaning. Discipline is the basic tool required to tackle problems and consists of delaying of gratification, acceptance of responsibility, dedication to truth, and something he terms ‘balancing’.

One of the things that struck a chord with me was the idea that feeling that you are valuable is a cornerstone of possessing self-discipline, because self-discipline is self-caring. “It is a direct product of parental love. Such a conviction must be gained in childhood; it is extremely difficult to acquire it during adulthood”. Do I think myself valuable, do I self-care? In many ways, no I don’t. Although I have narcissistic tendencies, these are more coping mechanisms. On the inside I really do not think of myself as valuable, and am all too amenable to the whims and fancies of others. I had a moment of feeling out of sorts yesterday and what was underpinning it I believe, was the sense that I’m out of control. My not feeling valuable has manifested itself in having no life plan at age 30 and never, ever having had one. I continue to exhibit a careless, come-what-may attitude to many aspects of my self, and I call this freedom and crazy subplots, but just occasionally they concern me.

Peck describes the two types of therapy patients, and typically most will fit into one grouping or the other. Neurotics assume too much responsibility, essentially believing that they are at fault. Those afflicted with character disorders conversely believe that the rest of the world is the problem. The issue of where our responsibilities lie is never solved. Continually throughout our lives we assess and reassess shifting responsibilities and figure out what is within our remit and what isn’t. No problem can be solved until an individual assumes responsibility for it, and solves it. I learned for myself a few months ago that taking responsibility – and doing something about it – ends up being the most freeing thing in the world.

Our view of reality is like a map with which we negotiate the terrain of life. We make our own maps as we go along, and those who do not review their maps, or falsely believe them to be complete, will have a Weltanschauung which is narrow and misleading. If we are to be dedicated to the truth, we expect a life of never-ending, stringent self-examination. We expect pain, because to avoid reality is to avoid pain. But why would we live a life of dedication to truth, when it is going to be painful, uncomfortable and as is so often the case, downright inconvenient? Because truth is more vital than comfort, which is often its opposite. We should welcome personal discomfort when it is occurs in service of the search for truth. Mental health is a process of dedication to reality at all costs.

The fourth and final facet of discipline is balancing. Balancing allows for flexibility and degrees of things. Life does not have to be all black and white – either letting everyone in or letting no-one in. Always expressing anger in a loud and hasty way. The essence of balancing is ‘giving up’, or depriving oneself of a luxury that is not serving the individual or is hurting others. The ‘giving up’ of the old self is a necessary and painful part of the transitioning that psychotherapy enables. This can manifest itself as a type of depression, which is something I must happily tell myself when I let it all get to me.

What I am going through is the growing out of a previous stage of life into a new stage of maturity. The rebirth is joyful and also brings with it plenty of delicious doubts, fears, anxieties and pain. Most of all I’m learning how to be true to myself. I’m learning to think of myself as valuable and to love myself because that is the root of everything good that I can achieve.

map

Self-transformation leads to global transformation.

I truly believe in the providence that is all around me. It gets a bit cloying me banging on and on about the universe this and abundance that, but it’s the most important thing I’ve learned on my journey so far. There is enough air to breathe and land to plant crops. There is only an imbalance where humans intervene and upset the natural order of things, and made-up nonsense like money, politics and greed are invoked. There is also enough happiness in our souls, enough potential that exists in our minds like seeds in a tomato. With this potential we can achieve anything – yes, anything!

In crisp soundbite form: Self-transformation leads to global transformation. Think about all the amazingness and truth that that statement contains. Our biggest mistake is thinking that we don’t matter. When we believe our voice doesn’t count or our happiness is not paramount or we somehow don’t matter or don’t deserve the good things in life, the universe is so sad, it cries. Its tears permeate every solar system, every galaxy. The only reason you are here is to embrace the benevolent energy of the universe, to share in her innate and singular state of happiness.

We each deserve the best for ourselves, whatever that happens to be and it is different for each of us. We are here to learn and grow through change, challenge, belief, observation and simple enjoyment of every moment. We create our own reality as the universe lovingly feeds and nurtures us. Feeling good about ourselves helps other people. I know with absolute certainty that the more I give, the more I receive. I know that by focussing on what I would like to be, do or have I bring it into existence. My thoughts radiate out to every part of the universe and that influence never diminishes for all of time.

A lot of incredibly fortuitous things have been happening lately and I am convinced it’s because of the place I am in. I have spent my time so far in Oakland, San Francisco and Berkeley: together quite a large area hosting almost a million inhabitants. And yet I keep running into people I’ve met before, and that help me somehow and vice versa. On the day I twigged on that I really should look for somewhere to live when my current accommodation ends on Monday, I ran into a guy I had met at the hostel in the City and the first thing he told me was about a shared house which is cheap and creative. The next day I ran into him again at San Francisco Public Library. A couple of days before that I ran into an artist that I knew from the painting class she runs. It turns out that someone I met at a spiritual event just happens to rent studio space with the artist from the class.

Most fortuitously of all, while I was planting beautiful redwoods at a primary school in Oakland on Saturday, I got distracted by a couple of cute dogs on the other side of the fence. I got chatting to their owner and in fact one of the dogs was found two days beforehand and he was looking after her. I said I’d be happy to look after her while she goes to work. And it just so happens that he and his housemate have a spare room and I’ll be moving in there and dogsitting in the daytime. What a great connection – thank you universe!

The people here are giving me so much and I like to think I am contributing positively to society too. I was privileged enough to have the second show of my prints last week, at not one but two galleries, which was a wonderful experience. It’s all thanks to the amazing people that I’ve met here and the friend that lets me tag along and exhibit at her shows. I’ve never been so creatively engaged, except for when I was a mad teenager. I am making all the time, reading, researching, pulling strands of thought together and doing positive things that benefit the community.

I’m lucky that my finances rarely cross my mind but that’s because I live humbly and within my means. I’m making an effort not to buy more stuff especially not after having shipped a load back home. I’ve also adopted a vegetarian diet for the moment and feel much better for it both physically, from an animal welfare perspective, and knowing that fewer of our precious resources have been wasted (70 percent of the grain and cereals grown in the US are fed to farmed animals); land hasn’t been wrecked (grazing uses a staggering 30 percent of the Earth’s land mass) and my meal hasn’t contributed to the 80 million metric tons of methane produced annually by the world’s livestock.

Every day I wake up thinking “I have never been happier”. That is pretty awesome. You should try it.

I cant find the map

Living with borderlines: anger.

I first started writing this blog in January of this year. The very first thing I ever wrote was in regards to my anger problem:

“I am a very angry and aggressive person. I guess it would be true to say that over time, I have developed strategies for dealing with and managing this in front of other people. But often I find myself seething inside, with terrible bad feelings often mixed with neurosis and circular thought patterns.”

Back then, I didn’t know how bad things would get. I couldn’t have predicted my ever more violent rages, bouts of drunken grappling and harsh words spoken with the intention of wounding. Nor did I know how much hope I would eventually muster up from within, which would help me to face my demons. Being understood (albeit by a textbook) is a great relief.

I am thinking about anger in relation to borderlines – what makes their anger different, at whom it is aimed, how and whether it can be understood and what can be done to help them, at least as a damage-control measure. Of course, what I’m about to discuss will be a generalisation and for every rule there are a great many exceptions, but the following certainly rings true for me and was originally written about in greater detail by Kreisman & Straus in their book Sometimes I Act Crazy, about living with Borderline Personality Disorder, or surviving a loved one who has it.

What sometimes distinguishes borderline rage is its concealment and its unpredictability. Some borderlines supress anger, believing its expression will lead to what is most feared: abandonment by a significant other. It has also been said that depression is anger turned inward, and in fact BPD has a high rate of comorbidity with depression. However, interestingly there is a trend for anger to be less intense in those borderlines who are depressed, in contrast with other psychiatric patients, studies have shown, in whom high levels of depression are correlated with increased anger and violence. How can this be? Perhaps depression somehow diminishes the experience of anger, or maybe anger is a defence against depression. After all, both are associated with serotonin irregularities and are two sides of the same coin.

Aside from supressing rage, other individuals deflect their rage back on themselves and become self-destructive. For others still, anger is unplanned and startling. There appears to be no observable progression from minor incident to violent eruption. What is clear though is that borderlines feel angry much of the time, even when the anger is not expressed. Frustration and self-reproach can unleash rage which is often directed towards the borderline’s nearest and dearest. A study of male domestic violence perpetrators demonstrated that they had a greater likelihood of exhibiting borderline characteristics than control subjects.

Anger is one of the most enduring characteristics of BPD and intertwines with other criteria that define the condition such as mood instability, destructive and self-harming behaviours, unstable relationships, fear of abandonment and persistent sensations of emptiness. One study found that over a two-year period, intense anger remitted in only 7% of subjects in contrast with suicidal behaviour resolving in 54% of cases over the same timescale.

Anger for borderlines stems from frustration and as a preemptive measure to guard against perceived expectation of disappointment at a later date. This was how it was for me, if you can imagine a person who feels she is utterly empty, that everything is pointless and worthless, so get it over with already. In other cases the anger may be camouflaged by opposite behaviour such as attempting to please everyone, though ironically this fruitless quest only leads to more frustration as the need for reciprocal nurturing isn’t met.

According to the authors of Sometimes I Act Crazy, it is essential to understand that in some situations the borderline needs to be angry. This is quite a difficult subject to write about, much less to do, as it seems counterintuitive to encourage a person experiencing irrational anger to let it out. Rational argument, apparently, doesn’t work – logic goes out the window during a borderline’s debate. He may even switch sides halfway through. So what is the proper response to a temporarily insane person’s uncontrollable rages?

The advice given sounds very simple on paper but must, I fear, by almost impossible for anyone not noted for their Mother Theresa-esque appearance.

1. Understand
Anger usually is the outward expression of fear and pain. It is easier to be angry than scared. Anger can be a way of gaining control over an unmanageable situation. Anger might be used pre-emptively or in a variety of different ways.

2. Prepare
Borderline rage is like no other in its intensity, irrationality and apparent whimsy. But you can prepare for it, and learn to read the signs and the cycles, as you both begin to unpack the triggers of rage.

3. Communicate
Communicating with a furious borderline is a delicate balancing act. On the one hand, empathy and self-control are needed. On the other, he must be made aware that his outbursts are unacceptable.

4. Don’t fight fire with fire.
Borderline rage feeds upon itself and off that of others.

5. Don’t tolerate anger.
If you show that rage is acceptable, this will only reinforce this idea in the mind of the borderline

6. Leave
If the borderline refuses to settle, take a brief respite until he calms down. Accept that change takes time.

It sounds a bit like training a dog, and it is just as absurd probably.

Right now I can honestly say that I have never been less angry in my entire life. I was an angry child that grew into an angry adult. I believe I have truly changed for myself as I continue learning how to appreciate what is around me, how not to feel everything is pointless and worthless and ugly. I am in love with nature, I love animals – even insects! I can control my moods far better now, in large part thanks to previous relationship issues being over. I know the beauty of the universe and the beauty that is me.

Living with borderlines: identity disturbance.

“If you can learn to accept disappointment yet maintain commitment, you are establishing an identity – because you are accepting yourself .” – Jerold Kreisman, ‘Sometimes I Act Crazy’.

Picking up from where I left off last time, I believe I may have Borderline Personality Disorder though I have not been in a position to seek a psychiatric evaluation yet. I know that just as you shouldn’t try to diagnose your own heart condition, it is not productive to set about finding out what’s wrong with your head. I however feel that I am acting bravely but cautiously, helping myself sort out a prickly issue without being convinced about anything. I could be wrong about it all – time will tell.

Reading the chapter on Identity Disturbance in the Kreisman & Straus book, Sometimes I Act Crazy, was one of the hardest because it sliced painfully close to the bone. ‘I don’t know who I am’ is something I’ve often felt in my heart. It’s even become a recurring theme in my artwork without my realising it. I put together an 80-page portfolio entitled ‘I don’t know what I want’. The diary that details my sexploits is called ‘I didn’t mean it’. And a beautiful Postsecret that I sent in back in 2006 read ‘I’m terrified of people getting too close… they may realise how empty I am’. This is just the tip of the iceberg.

Just as borderlines’ perception of others whipsaws from glorification to vilification, their own self-image often oscillates between extremes. I have felt at times that I am the greatest artist who has ever lived, and at others, that I am thoroughly, laughably worthless, undeserving even of life.

The DSM-III definition of identity disturbance requires “uncertainty about at least two of the following: self-image, sexual orientation, long-term goals or career choice, type of friends desired, preferred values”. For me, I can honestly say that I currently struggle with all of these matters except sexual orientation. Knowing that I’m not the only one brings huge comfort and relief.

Like the case study in the book, I often feel I am borrowing a self from someone else. The subject in the example realises, due to the unwelcome attentions of others involved, that he unconsciously mimics his boss’s mannerisms, walk, even his accent. It is deeply embarrassing and hard for the borderline to identify, but when he does it only feeds nihilistic feelings of emptiness.

Theorists speculate that identity diffusion, or ‘splitting’ emerges from disruptions in consistent mothering. Healthy attachment to the mother figure from which individual identity develops is disturbed.  Deprived of acceptance from the most important figure in his life, the child perceives the world as unpredictable. The developing borderline, unable to connect past experiences to future occurrences, develops ambivalence and confusion. The security of feeling accepted by others is based solely on the present. To escape this anxiety-producing chaos, the child splits the world into ‘all good’ and ‘all bad’.

Not to put too fine a point on it, I can see this in myself and other close friends who have had difficult early relationships with their mothers. Everyone deals differently with the hand they are dealt, but this kind of early upset can, for some, sow the seeds of various identity disturbances.

This can take various forms. For one grouping, called role absorption, their very identity is defined in terms of a cause. Cult members reflect this pathology. Others experience painful incoherence which leads to a person feeling unreal or describing a false self. This is highly correlated with a history of childhood sexual abuse. Others who experience identity disturbance experience a lack of commitment and constantly change their educational interests, jobs and relationships. It is as if they are constantly seeking to define or discover themselves.

I would like to quote from Sometimes I Act Crazy, this passage on the subtype of inconsistency.

‘The individual transforms into a “chameleon”, whose opinions and values depend on who is in his company at a particular moment, much like the title character in Woody Allen’s Zelig [that I have mentioned before!]. He may assume inconsistent, even contradictory, positions. There may be a strong attraction to a controlling, charismatic figure who offers the hope of consistency.’ – Jerold J. Kreisman & Hal Straus

A few days ago I had a second session with H, my current therapist. I talked about my need to have faith in myself and that going to the US represents a massive step for me in trusting my intuition and asserting my own freedom for the first time in my life. After having been in a recent relationship with someone controlling and arrogant, who wanted to mould me into his idea of the perfect woman, my recovery takes the form of embracing who I am, and being sensitive to my desires. After all, I trust and respect myself and I deserve to satisfy my inner needs.

After hearing a little about the nature of my last relationship, and being involved with others in the past who sought to ‘rescue me’, H understood how damaging that was. It really meant a lot to me that she realised for herself what the upcoming trip represents to me.

We talked for a while about Borderline Personality Disorder and she mentioned that these disorders are very new. I wondered whether they are real – as surely everyone experiences such universal emotions and behaviours as anger, depression, impulsivity, changeability etc. H responded that it is the degree to which these behaviours disturb one’s life that makes one a sufferer or not. A very simple but crucial point.

I think the best advice I can give myself after reading this chapter is to talk to others, to step outside my comfort zone, and do things that bring me closer to who I really am. It is there, but it is covered in so much self-doubt, fear, neuroticism, laziness and confusion. I would like to join healthy groups which work toward a worthwhile goal. I would like to be part of a team. I would like to maintain perspective and consistency.  I would like to feel part of my community. As I open up to people – strangers, friends and therapists – I will feel accepted without needing to guard my words. When I realise gradually for myself that others value and cherish me, then this will go a long way towards cementing a firm idea of who I am to myself.